Members of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) are electing their president, an annual ritual that has symbolic value. The outcome usually moves between radicalism and sobriety in alternate years. Consider the most recent choices, in reverse chronological order: incoming president Juan Cole (radical), Ali Banuazizi (sober), Laurie Brand (radical), Lisa Anderson (sober), Joel Beinin (radical), and so on. MESA this year will choose between Zachary Lockman of New York University, and Mark Tessler of the University of Michigan.
Lockman is the darling of the far left of the spectrum, particularly for his polemical defense of the field’s sorry record in his book Contending Visions of the Middle East. (A polemic it is, disguised beneath a university press veneer.) I called him last year on an academic boycott petition he signed, or signed but didn’t understand, or signed but understood differently from everyone else who signed it. Go here and watch him twist himself in pretzels.
Tessler is a cautious but shrewd manager who likes to play the center. He’s often trotted out as proof that Middle Eastern studies are balanced and reasonable, by people who don’t always know much about him. It was amusing to see Juan Cole, on two occasions, claim that Tessler holds his Ph.D. from the Hebrew University. Tessler did his Ph.D. at Northwestern; he just spent a junior year abroad in Jerusalem more than forty years ago. Cole should know better: he and Tessler are both at Michigan. But when MESA’s mandarins want to present themselves as Israel-friendly, all sorts of exaggerations flourish, and Tessler becomes the poster boy. As such, he pitched up in Washington last year to lobby against Title VI reform.
All of this is by way of encouraging you, dear reader, to cast your own vote in a straw poll on this website. You’ll find the MESA poll box on the sidebar of Sandbox and on the homepage. Choose between Lockman and Tessler, and leave a comment on the whole business, if the spirit moves you.